Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cyber Survival

It seems like almost every day the news media report on cyber attacks against America. Recently, the Associated Press reported, "hackers accessed the credit card information of North American customers, in an online security breach affecting about 200,000 accounts." And that's only one incident. Millions of people have been left vulnerable to identity theft and other crimes against their finances by hackers from all around the world.

As bad as it is for citizens to be under attack from hackers, consider the damage that can be imposed on the government by computer criminals who figure out how to break passcodes and gain access to sensitive defense information. In 2010 alone, the U.S. government was hit by more than 300,000 separate cyber attacks against its infrastructure. According to reports from government officials, more than 100 attempted break-ins were conducted by foreign governments, trying to infiltrate our military and defense plans. And 2011 is shaping up to be a record year for cyber espionage. Attacks are coming from China, Russia and a variety of locations in the Far East.

Once hackers break into a system, they can take control of it and manipulate it any way they want. They can take money from your bank account, they can order a new credit card in your name and start using it, they can make long distance phone calls billed to your account, they can buy plane tickets in your name (using your identity) and travel the world, they can do things that will get your name placed on a "watch" list as if you're a terrorist.

Even if your own personal identity is never stolen, you might still be victimized by cyber attackers Consider these questions and how they might pertain to you:

  • What if the banking system, ATM and checking accounts are hacked, draining money away and into the hackers' hands, leading to a digital banking collapse?
  • What happens when the power plants and electric grid, railroads and nuclear power plants become subject to cyber attacks — shutting down the power, disabling water supplies, disrupting transportation and communication systems?
The degree to which we are personally dependent on modern technology will determine the severity of these cyber attacks on us as individuals. For example, if you live without a cell phone, you won't even notice when the cell towers cease to function. If you don't use ATM, you'll never feel the hit when hackers take it down. If you don't use credit cards, nobody can steal your credit card number and run up a huge bill on your tab. You get the picture. 

Urban survival in this era, when the enemy hides behind the anonymity of electronic weapons, means we need to analyze our lifestyles and make adjustments that will take us off the digital battlefield. Some of you have already done that; some are in the process, and some haven't even begun yet. 

To be safe, we need to live under the radar, out of the line of fire of cyber attackers. Be prepared to do without a public water supply, a power utility, a grocery store visit every day. The more prepared you are to be independent, the safer you will be. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Food-Borne Disease

The deadly outbreak of E. coli in Europe sounds a wake-up call for all of us. Over the course of just a couple weeks, the death toll has reached 33, with about 3,100 sickened by the bacterium carried on food.

One of the problems has been identifying which food to avoid. Investigators have bounced around from tomatoes to cucumbers to lettuce to bean sprouts — at first suspecting each of those as the source of the disease, then later dismissing them. Now, it appears that they are back to pointing toward the bean sprouts as the culprit.

The uncertainty wreaked havoc with the food industry, as customers abandoned first one type of food and then another, leaving farmers unable to market their crops. In addition to the damage that was done to human health, there was enormous damage to the European economy from this little "epidemic."

I say "little" because, devastating as it is to the individuals and families involved, the numbers are puny by comparison with other disease outbreaks that historically killed millions. Nevertheless, it is still a serious problem when officials can't even put their fingers on what is causing the disease.

Hospitals in Hamburg, Germany (seemingly the epicenter of the outbreak), have been overwhelmed. Doctors and nurses are working around the clock trying to keep up with the influx of patients.  More than 700 of the patients are suffering from not only diarrhea and cramps, but have developed life-threatening complications that can lead to kidney failure, paralysis and epileptic seizures. Hundreds of patients are in intensive care. These patients need round-the-clock medical care, working the medical staff and also the hospital cleaning staff to exhaustion.

One of the surprising things about this illness is who it has affected. In a statement by Marc Voss, a senior internist at Regio Clinic Elmshorn, "It has been very stressful for all of us because we are dealing predominantly with younger patients without significant previous diseases." About 77% of patients are women, the majority of them between 20 and 50 years old, most are physically fit and live healthy lifestyles.

How can that be? It's easy to understand when we consider that this particular outbreak of E. coli has been carried on vegetables. The young, health-conscious, physically fit are likely to be eating a diet that includes a lot of vegetables — so they were a prime target.

Does that mean we should avoid eating vegetables? Not at all. In fact, most E. coli outbreaks arrive on meats that have been contaminated during processing. And dairy foods are often carriers of salmonella. So unless you give up eating altogether, there's always a possibility that the food you buy (even organic) might be contaminated.

The solution? Double wash everything. Use a vegetable cleanser such as GSE (grapefruit seed extract) mixed with water in a spray bottle and sprayed onto the food while washing. It's a good idea to wash the outside of fruits and veggies even though you're going to discard the peel (melon, oranges, bananas, etc.) to prevent accidental transfer of contaminants from the outside to the inside.

In this day, when we import so much produce from across the country or around the world, it's a good idea to be especially cautious. But even if you buy all your produce from local farms, that is no guarantee against disease outbreak. For those folks in Germany, the produce came from a local organic farm.

One additional lesson we can take from this incident is how quickly the hospital system can become overwhelmed by even a relatively minor catastrophic event. When something BIG comes along, we won't be able to depend on local medical care or other normal community services. We need to obtain as much training as possible so we are more capable of handling our own situation, insofar as possible. Some crises are clearly beyond our ability to handle without outside help, but we should do as much as we can without depending on the community to take care of us.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Five Rules

Being a competent outdoorsman doesn’t come naturally for most of us. That shouldn’t be a big surprise, because we live indoors, get our water out of a faucet, eat refrigerated food that’s cooked on something other than a wood fire, and sleep dry in a comfy bed under a roof. We don’t grow up hunting everything we eat, shaking our boots out before putting them on, building shelter from natural materials before bedding down in a blanket roll, and bathing in a cold creek while using a bit of sphagnum moss or equisetum for a scrub brush. That’s because most of us live in civilization.

That being the case, it takes some effort to become competent in the outdoors. To be good at living in a camp setting, we have to break the chains of civilization…at least a little bit. Doesn’t mean we have to live in the dirt, sleep with a pinecone stuck in our back, eat semi-raw burned food, offer ourself up to predatory insects, or be miserable in a hundred unmentionable ways. Nope! All it really means is that we need to learn some new rules of life in order to keep ourself safe and happy.

Here are five suggestions to get started:

  • The first order of business is to know where you are in relation to where you want to be. It’s called not getting lost. 
A butcher friend once told me, when I was foolish enough to ask him if he ever cut himself, “Heck yeah! I’m a butcher, ain’t I?” I took that as a yes. And the same goes for outdoorsmen — if you explore the great outdoors long enough, it’s only a matter of time until you look around and wonder just where you might be. That’s what we call being lost. It comes from failing to pay strict attention to everything around you…especially the trail behind you.

To keep from getting lost, periodically turn around and study your backtrail. It looks totally different going back on the same trail, so memorize the landmarks — the rock with lichens growing on it, the tree with a goofy forked limb, everything.

I got lost once in a deep forest in Louisiana. Being from the West, I grew up looking at mountainous scenery, using peaks and cliffs and canyons as landmarks while I hiked. Well, Louisiana has none of that stuff, and sure enough, I got misplaced (just another way of saying the L word). It’s a spooky feeling, and I don’t recommend it. So pay attention. Turn around often and memorize the backtrail. If there’s nothing memorable to look at, tie a bit of surveyors tape to a twig so it will stand out when you look back upon it. When you hike back out, take the bits of tape with you, so as not to litter the trail.

  • Be prepared to stay longer than originally planned. You never know what’s going to happen, so if you’re out for a day hike, be prepared to stay overnight, or maybe even two. That means some kind of shelter, some food, water and the ability to make fire and signal for help. All of that stuff can go in a couple of pockets, if you choose your equipment well. 
We’re talking the basics here. For shelter, I carry two items — an inexpensive pocket poncho and an emergency blanket by Adventure Medical Kits (www.adventuremedicalkits.com). For food, I carry a few granola bars and some jerky. For purifying water, I carry a Frontier Filter straw by AquaMira (www.aquamira.com). To start fires, I carry a Bic and also a Swedish FireSteel (www.lightmyfire.com) plus a few cotton balls treated with petroleum jelly and stowed in a zip baggie. And to signal for help, I carry a signal mirror and a signal whistle.

  • Experienced outdoorsmen make camp early in the afternoon, several hours before sunset, giving themselves ample time to get the shelter up, a fire started, and a good supply of firewood to last through the evening, with some left over to start the fire the next morning. 
  • Be prepared to solve emergency medical problems. Even the most cautious life in camp sometimes involves getting a splinter, minor burns, cuts and scrapes. Have a good first aid kit. Expand your knowledge by taking a first aid course. Become competent and comfortable managing factures and sprains, hypothermia, heat-related injuries, CPR, blood loss, shock, drowning, snakebite, and major burns. 
  • Finally, the mark of a true outdoorsman is wilderness etiquette — Don’t take noisy entertainment gadgets with you when you go camping. There’s a reason people like to go into the great outdoors for short periods of time — it’s called getting away from it all. What’s the sense of getting away from it all if you take it all with you? 
While boat camping at Lake Powell one summer, we found a quiet cove with an isolated beach, dropped anchor, kicked back and enjoyed the crimson canyon walls and crystal blue water. A hawk soared overhead. It’s the kind of place that causes you to whisper so as not to disturb the silence.

Then they came — a houseboat with a family full of kids. They anchored a hundred feet away, fired up the generator, cranked up the megawatt stereo system, and proceeded to destroy the serenity. I found myself shaking my head in disbelief. We quietly packed up our camp and moved to another canyon.

Real outdoorsmen love the sound of a breeze whispering through the trees, and the chuckle of a stream racing over a bed of rocks. They are polite enough to allow others the same opportunity to enjoy the peace nature has to offer. So my recommendation is that if you absolutely can’t live without noise, at least spare others the annoyance by wearing ear buds or headphones.

So, there you have five fundamentals that can help you become a more outdoorsman-like person.